Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Neil Armstrong and Future NASA Missions

On July 20, 1969, I was sitting in my bunker 10 miles north of Cu Chi in Vietnam. The other five members of my adviser team had gathered in front of a small black-and-white television set, which was powered by a small generator. We were watching a live broadcast of the fuzzy image of Neil Armstrong in a bulky space suit step slowly down to the lunar surface. His voice crackled: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

TV image of Neil Armstrong taking "one small step"
Neil Armstrong recently passed away at the age of 82. He and Buzz Aldrin are two of my heroes. With what we now consider primitive technology and without the benefit of previous missions, they went where no one had gone before - to the moon's surface. Thanks to the lunar missions, we know a lot more about the moon and how it was formed.

When asked by novelist Norman Mailer why he felt it was important to go to the moon, Neil Armstrong answered, “I think we’re going to the moon because it’s in the nature of the human being to face challenges.”

Other scientists working in the space program have said, “We're a race of explorers. It’s our destiny to travel to the stars.” Or words to that effect. Others claim that the new technologies developed for space travel “trickle down” as practical products for consumers. I'm sure this is true, even though right now I can't think of any examples.

A few years after the moon landing challenge had been faced, the human race lost interest, and funding for more exploration dried up. Astronauts haven't traveled to the moon since.

The truth is, if human beings are so keen on facing challenges, there are plenty of challenges facing us right here on Earth, such as war, terrorism and genocide; nuclear proliferation; poverty, hunger, disease, and overpopulation; dwindling fossil fuel reserves and the need for alternative energy sources; government corruption and waste; debt and failing economies; pollution of air and water; human rights violations and mistreatment of women. And these are just some of the major unresolved challenges.

Maybe NASA isn’t set up to handle them. But how about space missions to learn how to cope with climate change, whether caused by nature or humans?

An even scarier problem is the detection and deterrence of near-Earth asteroids. We don’t think much about asteroids, but there are billions of them rocketing around the inner solar system, and many of them are of the “near-Earth" variety. In 1908 an asteroid too small to be detected with current technology entered Earth atmosphere and exploded over Siberia. The blast leveled a thousand square miles of forest. A similar event would totally destroy New York City. Scientists say more strikes like this are inevitable. They even say we’re due for a larger asteroid strike, like the one that caused the global extinction of dinosaurs and most other species 65 million years ago.

So, NASA, how about that for a challenge? Forget sending a manned mission to Mars. Who cares whether there are microbes there? Use your funding instead for something even more challenging, and what could be more important than protecting life on Earth?

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2012. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Lily Brenner said...

Your article was interesting and thought provoking which I like. We need to think outside of our personal comfort zone, antipathy, and laziness etc. when it comes to what's happening here on planet earth.
People get so tied up in their own life (understandable) but hopefully not so much that they are blinded to what's occuring around them.
Thank you for the time and effort you put into your article.